Al Qaeda not on rise in Afghanistan: Petraeus
Last Updated: Saturday, April 09, 2011, 23:27
Kabul: The top commander of US and NATO forces said on Saturday that while some al Qaeda fighters have been searching for hideouts in rugged areas of eastern Afghanistan, he does not think they are making a comeback inside the country.

"There is no question that al Qaeda has had a presence in Afghanistan and continues to have a presence generally assessed at less than 100 or so," Gen. David Petraeus told reporters at the coalition's headquarters in the Afghan capital.

But he added: "There certainly has been some exploration for potential safe havens or sanctuaries in very mountainous areas of Nuristan and parts of Kunar provinces. Our intention, with our Afghan partners, is to maintain pressure on those who are seeking to establish safe havens."

Speaking with reporters after a farewell ceremony for NATO's top civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, Petraeus said the recent deaths of seven UN workers in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan would not affect plans for Afghan security forces to start taking the lead for security in the provincial capital this summer. Petraeus also confirmed that he's in discussions that will determine his next job, but doesn't know what it will be.

"I honestly don't know," he said. "I've obviously watched the trial balloons floated this past week if that's what they are."

Reporters asked him directly if he wanted to become CIA director one of several positions being rumored in Washington. Petraeus dodged the question, saying he didn't think it was appropriate to comment on jobs he might be asked to take.

He said, however, that reports of him being physically tired were wrong. Then he challenged reporters to join him for a run in Kabul, which is situated at about 6,000 feet (1,830 meters) above sea level.

"I am certainly not tired," he said. "If any of you would like evidence or proof of that, I welcome you tomorrow morning with your running shoes on and we'll see how you do over a five-mile course at 6,000 feet (1,830 meters)."

He said he has committed himself to lead the war through the current fighting season. There is fighting year-round in Afghanistan, but insurgent activity typically slows when the weather gets cold.

In his farewell speech to NATO and Afghan dignitaries, Sedwill said that when he arrived in Afghanistan more than two years ago, insurgents had the momentum.

"We couldn't keep up," he said. "The Afghan people and people across the (NATO) alliance were weary and looking for a political short-cut to the exit."


First Published: Saturday, April 09, 2011, 23:27

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